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Field Training Detachment 4 resumes training at Tyndall Air Force Base

  • Published
  • By Julie Svoboda
  • 82d Training Wing Public Affairs

Category 5 storm Hurricane Michael leveled most of Tyndall Air Force Base on October 10, 2018. The base still bears the scars of the storm’s onslaught, with condemned buildings and splintered tree stumps dotting the nearly 30,000 acres. However, amid the cacophony of nonstop construction and F-35 jet noise, the instructors from Field Training Detachment 4 of the 372d Training Squadron have resumed training in the same building they evacuated five years ago.

Master Sgt Samuel McMichael, Chief Inspector and Senior Enlisted Leader of FTD 4 was a crew chief instructor at Tyndall when Michael hit. Driving around the base, he points out what is being rebuilt, what is completely new, and where things once stood while he confers with Tech. Sgt. Juan Miranda to decide which route to take based on construction detours. McMichael, who was stationed at Tyndall when the hurricane hit, described his experience leading up to the hurricane and the days after.

He and the other members of the detachment initially prepared the building for a Category 3 storm, but the hurricane quickly strengthened in the warm gulf waters to become one of only four Category 5 storms to make landfall in the United States. Although most personnel evacuated, McMichael and his wife rode out the storm in the Tyndall area.

“At that time, my wife was 16 weeks pregnant with my son and had a job down in Gulf Coast Regional Hospital,” he said. “We stayed in the hospital during the entirety of Michael. And it was crazy to be in there in a middle room during storm such as that. There were no windows in there or anything like that and you have no idea what's going on around you, and you just see the door shaking in the middle of the hospital and it catches your nerves.”

The next day, the McMichaels saw the destruction left by the storm.

“After we got out of the hospital, we were able to go out and see the damage,” he said. “It was  catastrophic; this once beautiful town was just wrecked, it was very sad to see. There were power lines laying everywhere. I couldn't get to my neighborhood because there were trees just all over the roads.”

According to McMichael, the building that once stood behind the schoolhouse took the brunt of the storm. However, when instructors went to the building to attend a commander’s call, sections of the building had restricted access due to hazardous mold and the constant whir of drying fans showed that while the building stood, the damage was extensive. During this call, he learned that he would receive orders for Eglin AFB, where the instructors would stay until 2023, when instructors returned to Tyndall.

“Now we're here training maintainers again,” he said. “So, the way it began was Tech. Sgt. Miranda got here in February of 2023. And he was the first boots on the ground for Detachment 4 here at Tyndall. He was standing up programs. He was the initial cadre and brought in five other instructors plus me, so we have seven people total at this time. So, it's kind of ironic the first class began 10 October, 2003, five years to the day that Hurricane Michael hit.”

Many of the classrooms are still empty, a mural of an F-22 Raptor in one reveals the pre-hurricane mission and a small plaque with two challenge coins honoring past instructors hangs on a wall.  McMichael found a whiteboard with his name on it from his previous instructor days, evidence of the hasty evacuation in 2018. Some of these rooms were designated as F-35 classrooms which will be refurnished and upgraded for F-35 maintainer classes.

Although rebuilding can be slow-going, the FTD 4 team of instructors graduated 31 students since training restarted in October. The instructors will add more classes as tools and materials become available. Despite the roadblocks, McMichael is grateful for the support from Eglin AFB and the strength of his fellow instructors.

“The rebuild continues to happen over here at Tyndall Air Force Base and the base is going to be the base of the future,” he said. “The infrastructure is more modern.

Everything is coming online. Everything is going to be brand new. The instructors who got here have paved the way prior to me getting here in June. These guys have stood up programs, they have gone through training, all of our instructors here tend to have transferred from different bases and they provide insights from their bases. They have embraced the FTD community, the detachment life, the 372d life and adapted very well. Also, I'd like to give a huge thank you to Eglin Air Force Base for being able to accommodate all of the first five initial instructors that came through and that we were able to accomplish the tasks and start our classes as soon as possible.”

McMichael added that being physically detached from the 82d Training Wing at Sheppard AFB does not affect the high level of communication or support.

“Everybody at Sheppard has been willing to help us with any questions that we call about, anything that arises that we may need more information for or anything like that. The team at Sheppard headquarters has been very beneficial and very helpful for the entire stand-up,” he said.

Even though McMichael experienced the violence of Hurricane Michael, his love for the area and teaching brought him back to Tyndall.

“I love Florida, I love the Panhandle and I love instructing,” he said. “As an instructor, when something was brought to their attention so that they understood something that they see out on the flightline that they could relate to the course, that was very beneficial for them and also very beneficial for me to share that.”

He recommends instructing to any Airman who wants to impact the future of their career field.

“If you have the passion to teach people if you have the passion to want to learn something else and to give you a good breadth of experience and to be able to jump out of your comfort zone and be able to instruct and do public speaking,” he said. “It is a perfect opportunity for you. And I would recommend it to anybody that has those kinds of desires.”